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“Across the distance there comes a change. The horizon is melted away; the mountains are all blurred. Distant chains appear to part and to become peaked islands. The sky seems water; the water, sky. Soon substance and shadow are indistinguishable. In plainer words, it is the beginning of a noonday mirage.”

– From Chapter III “Sea Horizons,” Pictures of an Inland Sea, page 39

Title page of Portraits of an Inland SeaTitle: Pictures of an Inland Sea

Author: Alfred Lambourne

Published: Boston: Samuel E. Cassion, 1895

Call Number: xPS3523 A44 P53 1895

First edition

An entire month has escaped me. It seems to have fallen into a crevasse. It was mid-August and then suddenly here we are at the end of September. I looked at the calendar today and realized it has been a month since I wrote and published the last On Jon’s Desk post. Subsequently, having no idea whatsoever as to what I should write my next post on, I began scanning my desk to see what books I may find. That is when I found an amazing book. It just goes to show that every book is a treasure, waiting to be found. This book was on my desk because I needed to follow up on a question posed by someone who came to Special Collections to read it and was then waiting to be returned to its place on the shelf. Little did I know that this amazing book, only a few feet away from me this whole time, is such a gem. I had no previous knowledge of the author or this work. I am very happy that I now do. Here is what I found.

Portrait of Alfred LambourneAlfred Lambourne was born in Chieveley, Berkshire (on the River Lambourn), England, on the second of February, 1850. Alfred manifested artistic talent while young and his parents (William and Martha) encouraged him in the pursuit of this interest. During the 1860s, Alfred’s family converted to Mormonism and subsequently immigrated to the United States, residing in St. Louis, Missouri for a time before completing its journey to Utah. Alfred arrived in Salt Lake City at the age of sixteen (having kept a sketch book of scenery along the way from Missouri to Utah) and upon arriving in Salt Lake City began painting set scenery for the Salt Lake Theatre. In 1871, he accompanied Brigham Young (then President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and former Governor of Utah Territory) to Zion Canyon, where he made the first known sketches of that area. During his mid-life, Alfred traveled not only throughout the West but also across the continental United States painting many natural settings and geologic features he visited. In his later life he concentrated on writing, sometimes illustrating his books. He wrote fourteen works in total before he died in Salt Lake City on the sixth of June, 1926.

Page twenty-three from Portraits of an Inland SeaWhen most of us think of the Great Salt Lake, we think of a stinky place with lots of bugs. Alfred was enthralled by the Great Salt Lake, referring to the body of water as an “inland sea.” It was a source of adventure and joy for him and his preferred place for solitude. It also acted as a source of artistic inspiration for him. His relationship with the lake spanned decades and resulted in a body of beautiful works, of which this book, Pictures of an Inland Sea, is one. He sketched and painted the lake from multiple vantage points. At the same time, his paintings focused on his favorite aspects of the lake: travel by boat, soaring birds, and of course the ever-changing water, sky, and atmospheric phenomena of the lake.

List of sketches in Portraits of an Inland SeaPictures of an Inland Sea is a transcendentalist work that provides both factual information on the lake from a nineteenth century vantage point and images of divinity sketched out for us by Alfred both visually and textually. This book is a treasure because through it we are drawn into a world of natural phenomenon that he could see and with this work interprets for us. So next time you catch an unsatisfactory whiff of the Great Salt Lake and fail to appreciate its fascinating existence, just look to Alfred and his sketches and you may find it just a little easier to appreciate our inland sea.

~ Contributed by Jon Bingham, Rare Books Curator


Twilight of Marshes Sketch from Portraits of an Inland Sea